It took less than two weeks for lawmakers to vote to break new rules requiring that new spending be offset elsewhere in the budget, waiving the requirement just minutes before a strong bipartisan majority passed a $15 billion job-creation bill in the Senate on Wednesday.
The bill continues highway construction and offers a payroll tax break for businesses that hire unemployed workers. Given the state of the economy, supporters said the bill was too important to hold up.
“This is a good bill, it’s a focused bill, it’s a modest bill, but it will do some good for the hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions who are looking desperately for work,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who crafted the payroll tax break in the bill.
But opponents — mostly Republicans — said the bill doesn’t do enough, shuts out other Republican ideas and violates the new pay-as-you-go, or “paygo,” spending rules.
“I’m just not sure how you vote for this bill when it violates that rule, which you just voted for two weeks ago,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican. “It just seems to be a bit of inconsistency that’s hard even for a political institution to justify.”
Paygo rules require that new spending be matched by compensating savings elsewhere, in both the short term and long term. Backers say the jobs bill was paid for over 10 years, but because of the way the funding was structured, it would produce a $12 billion deficit in the first five years.
Senators voted 62-34 to waive the spending rules, surpassing the 60-vote threshold. Minutes later, the Senate voted 70-28 to pass the overall bill.
Six Republicans joined two independents and all but one Democrat in voting to break the rules.
Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the Republicans who voted to break the rules, said he would not be lectured by colleagues who voted for the Wall Street bailout.
“The main thing here that I’m concerned about is we keep doing nothing about roads and highways and infrastructure in America, and that’s what we are supposed to do,” said Mr. Inhofe, who is the top Republican on the Senate committee that oversees public works projects.
Democrats pushed through the pay-as-you-go rules just before new Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, was sworn in. If Mr. Brown had been in office, Democrats might not have been able to muster the 60 votes needed to pass the rules.
President Obama signed the budgeting change into law Feb. 12 and, a day later, lectured Congress to heed the restrictions.
“This rule is necessary, and that is why I am pleased that Congress fulfilled my request to restore it,” he said in his weekly radio address.
Mr. Brown initially voted against waiving the rules, but then switched his vote and joined Democrats and the handful of Republicans to back the extra spending. The bill still must be reconciled with a separate jobs bill passed by the House of Representatives.
Mr. Brown said he sees the bill as a tax-cutting measure, “but if it comes back to the Senate full of pork, waste, fraud and abuse, I reserve the right to vote against it.”
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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